x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Conservatives win in Malaysia's Islamic party poll

The results will be a boost for the proposed unity talks and show the Islamic party does not want to change too fast, analysts say.

KUALA LUMPUR // The conservative faction of Malaysia's Islamic opposition triumphed in weekend party polls, which could bring them together again with the federal government, officials and analysts said. The Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party's president, Abdul Hadi Awang, retained his post unchallenged while his deputy, Nasharudin Mat Isa, was re-elected in a tough race in Saturday's internal election.

Mr Abdul Hadi and Mr Nasharudin, both Islamic scholars, have previously called for unity talks with prime minister Najib Razak's ruling coalition, which has upset some party members and their partners in the three-party opposition alliance. Mr Nasharudin defeated two candidates, who are viewed as more liberal and opposed the talks for fear the party would end up as a lackey to Mr Razak's United Malays National Organization (UMNO).

The party poll results will be a boost for the proposed unity talks and showed the Islamic party does not want to change too fast, said Ibrahim Suffian, director of the independent Merdeka Center research firm. At the same time, he said there was a clear divide in the party as a large number of moderates who had opposed the unity talks were also voted in. "The party remains split. To a great extent, it wants to be able to attract non-Malays and liberal Muslim support but at the same time, it does not want to compromise its" religious principles, he said.

The Islamic party has long advocated a theocratic state with strict religious and morality laws, but has toned down its religious rhetoric last year. But the victory of the conservative faction in the Islamic party, known by its Malay acronym PAS, may now hurt ties with its allies and pose a headache for its leader, former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. Mr Nasharudin has said PAS was committed to the opposition alliance and ruled out joining UMNO, but kept the door open for talks. "I will pursue the need for PAS to talk to all parties including political organisations and non-governmental organisations," he said.

Analyst Joceline Tan wrote in the Sunday Star that the pro-UMNO group in PAS distrusted Mr Ibrahim and "has very clear objectives for the near future ... capturing the federal government and claiming the post of prime minister." * AP